#IWD Profiles/Interviews

#IWD2023: Immy Churchill (co-published with eight European magazines)

Up-and-coming vocalist Immy Churchill is already in demand, having that natural-born ability to connect to the music and draw the audience in. Still undertaking jazz studies, the future looks set to be full of exciting and affecting music-making. Profile for International Women’s Day by Sebastian:

This article is co-published simultaneously in the following European magazines, as part of “Now’s the Time” an operation to highlight young jazz and blues female musicians : Citizen Jazz (Fr), JazzMania (Be), Jazz’halo (Be), LondonJazz News (UK), Jazz-Fun (DE), Giornale della musica (IT), Written in Music (NL) and Donos Kulturalny (PL).. #Womentothefore #IWD2023

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Photo credit Stuart Keegan

There are performers for whom it has already become clear from relatively early in their lives that the stage will be their natural habitat and the right place for them to be. Vocalist Immy (Imogen) Churchill is currently a third-year student in the jazz department of the Royal Academy of Music, but she is already in demand for all kinds of projects, and the signs that her developing craft is about to take her on a fascinating journey as a musician are clear. This is very much work in progress: “I am finding out who I am in terms of how I like to present music,” she says.

I have heard her in the context of student performances, and also as headliner at the Vortex, where she had put together a programme consisting of songs by an interesting range of singer-songwriters – Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Dory Previn – alongside instrumental tunes for which either Norma Winstone or she had written lyrics. That wish to roam over a wide range of music is conscious: “I couldn’t give myself a label or a genre,” she affirms.

Each time I have heard Churchill sing, I have noted not just her ability to impress, by bringing understanding and a sense of musical clarity to complex vocal lines, but also to affect an audience emotionally, to draw in our attention and to give memorable performances which stay in the mind.

Part of the story is her musical heritage. We writers about music might casually lob the overworked cliché “born into a musical family” into a feature or profile, but in Churchill’s case it is a major part of her story so far. She grew up surrounded and immersed in music-making and with the music playing around her. That included “a lot of jazz” she says. So if from an early age she might join in and start singing along to a Pat Metheny solo on the car stereo, that was seen as nothing out of the ordinary. She describes the environment she grew up in as “somewhere where performing is something entirely natural and not outside of yourself.”

Another feature of this family which sings and plays music together is that she didn’t have to look far for role models as jazz singers. Norma Winstone and the much-missed Tina May have both worked extensively with Immy Churchill’s mother, pianist/composer Nikki Iles. Another friend of the family was the late and great Mark Murphy, for whom Immy’s father Pete Churchill worked for several years as pianist.

As Immy Churchill talks, she picks out some of the things she admires in these singers. With Norma Winstone, “everything holds weight when she sings, even the funny and flippant tunes”. With Tina May there is admiration for her “incredible storytelling”.

Photo credit Monika S Jakubowska

Winstone… May… Murphy…in our interview, Immy Churchill also points out another linking thread: they all wrote lyrics, so perhaps it is not surprising that Churchill herself has followed in their footsteps and has already written the lyrics for nearly 50 tunes. She finds it a useful thing to do: “When you write lyrics it improves how you sing and create the stories.” And it also enables her to approach new music: “If the material doesn’t speak to me straight away, then writing lyrics gives me a way to connect with it.”

Another source of confidence and ease as a performer was the good fortune to have attended a school, Bedford Modern, where such traits were actively encouraged. Immy Churchill auditioned for the part of Maria in the school’s musical “West Side Story” when she was just fifteen, got the part and says she made it her life for the next six months. No regrets whatsoever, the experience was transformative: “That is when I learned how to work really hard at something and have it pay off.”

Other school experiences included being asked to compose, be musical director and act in a subsequent show. There were lessons to be learned here too: “There are the shaping experiences which teach you, that make you believe ‘I can do it’,” Churchill says. “A massive part is to be prepared so that there aren’t any doubts or nerves.”

An important current influence and inspiration is Churchill’s singing teacher at RAM, Nia Lynn, the Welsh vocalist who also works as vocal coach in theatre companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre.

One expression kept on coming up in our conversation, and that was the idea that a performer can “shrink the room”. Not only does she do it consciously, when one remembers how both her parents have set the mood for singers at the start of a song, perhaps the least remarkable thing is that she can do it so well.

After all, Immy Churchill does have a very clear aim in mind when she performs in front of an audience, and it is one based on her own unique musical birthright. She says: “I want to create naturalness… to make it feel like that thing at home.”

Immy Churchill appears on Lukas DeRungs’ album KOSMOS SUITE (Berthold Records) which has been nominated as Debut Album of the Year at the German Jazz Prize. Immy will be on tour a soloist with Derungs and Jazzchor Freiburg during May 2023 in Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Thank you to Jacek Brun of Jazz-Fun.de who has published this piece IN GERMAN

And Matthieu Jouan of Citizen Jazz , IN FRENCH. And Jos Demol of Jazz’halo ( IN FLEMISH/ DUTCH)

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